This weekend will be filled with memories and rememberances, and it all started this morning.
New York City's Triborough Bridge will officially be renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in a dedication ceremony Wednesday.The New York senator was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.Speakers at the morning ceremony are expected to include former President Bill Clinton, Governor David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, is also expected to attend.The bridge will be the first major public work dedicated to Robert Kennedy in the state he represented from 1965-1968 in the U.S. Senate.
The ceremony is being held a day before what would have been Robert Kennedy's 83rd birthday.
I was a bit too young to really have known the John Kennedy era, apart from sensing the excitement of people around me that this young vital war hero was our President and that things were about to change.
Who could have known?
When Robert Kennedy ran in 1968, I was a bit more aware of the world around me, being the bright little boy that I was. I knew that LBJ, as courageous a man as ever sat in the White House for what he did when he saw the world around him treating human beings like second class citizens, had serious problems in this war he had entangled the nation in.
RFK seemed to be the embodiment of everything his brother's legacy would destine him to be: young, powerful, opinionated, intelligent, and dedicated to making the world a better place. His signature quotation, taken from George Bernard Shaw was, "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
It is RFK that I have to thank for being as world-aware and as politically-motivated as I am. If all he had done for me was to spark my intellectual curiousity and gotten a ten year old to go out and campaign for the Democratic ticket that year, it would have been enough.
My family owes a far greater debt to Robert Kennedy, one that he earned posthumously. You see, in his family's spirit of giving back to the community, a family affected by the tragedy of what was then called "mental retardation," RFK's legacy was to help those in need get a leg up in life.
His foundation helped my brother, handicapped by a bout of meningitis in his early childhood, find a job, a job he has kept these thirty-odd years and will retire from shortly.
I often think of that day that my mother got the call from his employer, offering the job. I think of it particularly when I engage some conservative about welfare or some right-winger about personal responsibility. I think of the alternative, of how my brother could easily have sat around the house collecting Social Security for the rest of his life, a burden to society and to my family.
Instead, RFK in his wisdom found a way to reach beyond his years to present an opportunity to him. RFK would have done the same in his public life had he lived, I have no doubt.
And I have no doubt that happy moment has shaped how I perceive the world and what society owes to the least among us: a chance. As a progressive, I want all people to have that chance to grow and be something, to do something, to have something.
I don't mouth platitudes of "ownership society" and then ram a mortgage down someone's throat like it was a gift. Instead, I see government's role as one that seeks opportunities and seeks people in need and marries them to each other. If that means that government has to take responsibility until that opportunity presents itself, so be it.
It's the Christian thing to do.
It has been said of RFK, "Bobby, we hardly knew ye," and that is true, but for what little knowing we've had, we are a better people.